Monday, November 30, 2009

LWF&D on the PA wine trails, part I: The Glasbern Inn

I've been wine tasting before-- in New Zealand, South Carolina, and Connecticut-- and while I do like wine, I really like visiting wineries more for the awesome sense of place you get from seeing the vines and barrels and talking to the winemakers. So when I got an email inviting LWF&D to tour and review the Pennsylvania wine trails, I jumped at the chance. I'd never had Pennsylvania wine before, and getting out of NYC for a quick weekend in November had its appeal as well. So on the afternoon of Friday the 20th, AV and I set out on traffic-filled roads towards Fogelsville, a tiny town in the Lehigh Valley.

Our destination was the Glasbern Inn, where the Pennsylvania Wine Association was graciously hosting the two of us for the weekend. I will admit I spent quite a bit of time ogling their sumptuous website in the weeks leading up to our jaunt, so I was ready for a quaint country retreat, complete with fireplaces, hot tubs, and good food. And yet even with such high hopes, the Glasbern managed to exceed my expectations for an incredible weekend.

We arrived late Friday evening and pulled up to the main building to check in. As we were greeted warmly, we noted a few couples finishing dinner in the firelight-filled dining room, our destination for Saturday night's meal. Since the Glasbern is made up of a number of different buildings, the smiling hostess showed us where was the most convenient place to park and told us she'd meet us outside our room to make sure we could get in. Everything worked out perfectly, and we clicked open the door to our retreat.

We were housed in room 22, part of the "Farm House." The front door opened into a small living room with a comfortable couch, fireplace, and enormous hot tub occupying the corner. Past the living room was another sitting room with a flat-screen TV and wet bar. And leading up from there was a staircase to the loft bedroom, dominated by a palatial king-size bed and the bathroom in two parts.

Entry room and fireplace

...with hot tub!

The wet bar area in the living room

Stairs up to the bedroom loft

As any seasoned and sophisticated traveler does when entering a new accommodation, we started by playing with everything the room had to offer. AV built a fire, while I investigated the large gift box that bore my name... which turned out to be a case of wine courtesy of the PA Wine Association, along with a Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Cookbook. With a delight like that on our hands, how could we resist diving in immediately? We popped open a bottle of Chambourcin, the signature grape of the Lehigh Valley, from Franklin Hill Vineyards, as I bounded up the stairs to make sure the bedroom and bathroom were in working order. The toilet in separate closet? Check. The enormous sink room occupied by a steam shower larger than my bedroom at home? Check. Note: extensive investigation of the multi-showerhead steam shower concluded that the best way to make use of it was by turning on the overhead rainfall showerhead, turning on the three side jets on either side, and turning in circles with one's arms up in the air to get a 360-degree carwash effect. Just, you know, FYI.

Our greeting gift... 7 bottles of Chambourcin wine

As such

Our first night sample

...and a Lehigh Valley cookbook

View of the bedroom from the stairs

Insane steam shower!!!

And potty closet

Somewhat overwhelmed by our good fortune and insane complimentary accomodations, we fell exhausted into the king sized bed and slept like babies. (N.B.: The only negative we found to the entire Inn was the pillows, which were somewhat less than ideal. If you find your way to Glasbern and have neck problems, definitely BYO pillow.) The next morning, we woke to the sound of cows mooing mournfully-- it was weaning season, the hostess had explained apologetically the evening prior, as the moos rang out through the night air. Did I mention Glasbern is a working farm? Ahh yes, it is indeed, a fact that boded quite well for our full breakfast (included for all guests) awaiting in the main dining room.

Outside view of the Farm House

Our porch

View out our back door

Another house with guest rooms

The weather was bright, crisp, and clear, about as good as it gets for late November, which made the dining room light and cheery. We chose a seat in the sun room, which lived up to its name, and hit up the waiting buffet. I dove right into the cereal (raisin bran for me, thank you!) and the gigantic bowl of impeccably fresh fruit that was calling my name. Also on offer were breakfast breads and muffins, yogurts, and coffee and tea (great selection from Mighty Leaf, for those who are tea people). Oh, and if that spread weren't decadent enough, breakfast includes the choice of a hot entree from a list of straight-from-the-farm breakfast classics, ranging from Eggs Benedict to Creme Brulee French Toast to frittatas and eggs any style. Content with my (three large bowls of) fruit and cereal, I skipped the hot entree, but AV went for the eggs benedict, complete with potatoes on the side, which he pronounced incredible. Sunday morning featured the same incredible spread; this time AV went for a Western omelette with rye toast and uncommonly good sausage.

The breakfast room

Part of the breakfast buffet

My fruit salad, bowl 1

AV's breakfast tableau

And his eggs benedict (day 1)

Western omelette (day 2)

After breakfast, we had a bit of time before we had to set off on our first wine-touring excursion, so we decided to explore the grounds. We saw the cows roaming the pastures and happened upon the chicken coop, presided over by a blissful-looking retriever. Up near the building housing the spa and exercise room (which we used! Because we're good people!), we came upon two billy goats happily munching away at the foliage. We watched them, entranced, for a good five minutes or so, and then felt bad for being such blatant city people. We felt like inverse versions of the tourists standing in Times Square, heads tilted back, gaping and pointing at the billboards. Glasbern offers more comprehensive guided tours of the farm at 9:30 each day, but unfortunately we had places to be, so we skipped back to our room and jetted off in AV's car for a full day of wine tasting-- stay tuned for my next post for a full report of where we visited.

View off the back porch area of the main house

Large cages?

And a blue tree

The Carriage House, another accommodation building

View down the driveway towards the road

Some of the cows, from afar

Little hut to dry the firewood


Beautiful puppy


That evening, exhausted and sleepy, we arrived back at our room and crashed for a nap. But we revived in time to get ready for our 7:30 reservation at the celebrated Glasbern dining room. In the chilled night air, we hiked up the hill to the dining room. While the room was light and airy in the morning, in the evening it was magical-- filled with firelight and lit with sparkling spun-yarn light fixtures hanging from the barn rafters. We were seated at a generously sized table and settled in for the four-course meal.

Our server, Chris, was a delight, returning our every quip with an even wittier quip of his own. He gave us ample time to choose drinks-- a Yuengling for AV, a glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for me. We savored our drinks and the warm bread with herbed butter and waited for our first course.

Bread with butter in the background

We had both chosen the Glasbern Salad, anchored by incredibly tender, flavorful greens from the Glasbern garden. The greens were tossed in a cider vinaigrette and complemented by dried cherried, addictive candied walnuts, a fan of sliced apple, and (in AV's case) Maytag blue cheese. The salad was simple but incredibly well-executed with memorably standout ingredients.

Truly special lettuces

Second course for AV was the celery root soup with walnut pesto and cider reduction. I skipped my second course (limited stomach space and all) but snagged a sip of the soup. Creamy and filling, it tasted like a pure refinement of the bulbous and homely celery root. AV was new to the world of celeriac, but he thoroughly enjoyed his initiation.

A creative soup course

On to the entrees. AV chose the braised beef shoulder with cabbage, fingerling potato, carrots, turnips, and celery root, with almost all ingredients-- including the beef-- coming from the Glasbern farm. AV had been debating between the braised beef and the sirloin of grass-fed beef, another attractive option, but went with the braise because of the abundance of local farm ingredients. And it was a smart choice-- one bite told him that he had made the right decision.

Fresh, healthy, and comforting

My selection was the roasted red ace beets with white beans, heirloom lettuce, and toasted hazelnuts. This was one of the most incredibly flavorful vegetable dishes I've had in a very, very long while. The beets were lively and sweet, and the vegetable-and-been mixture under the beets burst with a savory, creamy flavor I can barely describe. The lettuces laid atop the beets were wilting slightly from the heat of the dish; I gobbled them down with abandon. I can't tell you how thrilled I was with this selection-- I had to physically restrain myself from finishing the whole meal, because there was dessert coming soon...

One of the best dishes I've had in a long, long time

...And once dessert arrived, I was glad I waited. My choice was a classic Local Apple Cobbler, complete with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream melting into the mixture. The large chunks of apples were stewed to a yielding tenderness and were enhanced with the goodness of butter and brown sugar, and the ice cream surrounded the fruit pieces with a swirly of heavenly creaminess. Otherworldly. I was so full I left the last few bites on the plate, but had I even the tiniest bit of room left, they would have been packed away as well.

Apple + brown sugar = what could go wrong?

AV's selection was the Glasbern chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream. A warm, semisweet, rich chocolate cake was seamlessly offset by the sweet peanut butter; the swirl of berry sauce only added to the insanity. Let's just say by the time we stumbled down the hill back to our warm, firelit happy home, we were incredibly happy campers.

Appealing to the eye and the mouth

By the time we checked out of the Glasbern on Sunday, we were sad to leave. Yes, any traveler staying gratis would be predisposed to like the Inn, but the special aura surrounding the Glasbern cannot be bought (or faked). From the smiling, personable employees to the relaxing, bucolic surroundings to the uncommon amenities (fireplace! hot tub! steam shower!), Glasbern is the kind of country inn every seeker of R&R dreams of. If you are lucky enough to have the means, I strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself. I can only hope that AV and I make our way back there again some day.

Next up: Our adventures on the wine trails (and more!), day 1...

Glasbern Inn
2141 Pack House Road, Fogelsville, PA

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all-- here's to a holiday full of food, drink, and enjoyment!

Stay tuned for a full report on my travels through the Pennsylvania Wine Trails, coming up right after the holiday... Till then, here's to leftovers!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stay tuned...

This evening LWF&D will embark upon a very special two-day experience. Courtesy of some very kind people, AV and I will be taking a whirlwind tour of the Allentown-area Pennsylvania Wine Trails, visiting various wineries and exploring the scenery to see what the area has to offer. At this time when things are crazy with work and the holidays, a break from everything is sorely needed, and break we shall. Stay tuned for our full report and perhaps a preview of your next local vacation...

Weirder and weirder at Room Service

On Sunday evening, after getting back to the city from Princeton, AV and I headed to Room Service for some Thai food. I've been there twice before, for some reason, despite the fact that it wasn't great either time around. But hey, we had a yen, so we made our way there.

Room Service is still one of the more bizarro restaurants around. The giant chandeliers, the crazy metal chairs, the techno music... it's like being in some tripped out club, only it's 7PM. We took our customary 1.5 seconds to figure out what we wanted to order, and soon our waiter sidled up and took our order with about as much awkwardness as a three-sentence exchange can embody. While we waited for our appetizer to arrive, we eavesdropped on-- nay, were subjected to-- the conversation of our neighbors, which went a little something like this: "You're skinny." "No I'm not." "Yes you are." All righty then.

Finally, our dumplings arrived to arrest our attention. Thank you, dumplings. Although I still argue with the presentation-- all clumped together in a pool of sauce, rather than presented separately with dipping sauce on the side-- the dumplings were really quite good and piping hot. The dipping sauce was sweet soy, and I still would have preferred a bit more of it. And on the side. Did I mention I like to control the dipping?

Big ol' mass of dumplings

After we scarfed the dumplings, we paused for a brief interlude to let a passing waitress spill a stream of steaming hot tea-water on AV's arm. By way of apology, she produced a stack of paper napkins. Sweet, thanks. Fortunately, the brief sponge bath fortified us for the entree course, which came shortly after our neighbors' tea. AV went with the traditional pad see ew with chicken; he enjoyed it, noting that, like the dumplings, it was also steaming hot.

Hot, like the tea water

My choice was the Thai Salad. This was the most difficult-to-eat food I've had in a very long time, perhaps ever. It's tough to see from the picture, but it came in a deep, flared vessel about a foot high, which AV compared alternately to a medieval helmet or a bedpan (thanks, darling). There was a little ladle holding about a cup of peanut dressing (quite good), which I removed from the veggies. And then I tried to tackle the salad. I gave up on the slippery plastic chopsticks immediately, grabbing my fork like a trident. The huge discs of cucumber were too large to dip comfortably, and of course I had neither a knife nor a flat surface on which to cut, so I just made do. Underneath the cukes, pallid tomatoes, and huge wands of dessicated fried tofu was a melange of julienned carrot, red onions, and bean threads. And another six inches down was a bed of stiff iceberg lettuce, cut into pieces about 3" by 3", which of course also rendered them nearly inedible by themselves without the right utensils, let alone in combination with any of the other vegetables. While I tried gamely to spear, dip, and chew the veggies, the table on the other side of us filled up with two of the most obnoxious couples we've ever had the displeasure of running into. So I tried to eat faster so we could get out of there. But I couldn't eat fast enough. Each bit revealed more veggies underneath, each more awkwardly cut than the last, and my sad, knifeless fork couldn't keep up. Finally I just gave up. We paid and left.

There's about a pound of vegetables under the visible matter here

So what I've learned about Room Service is thus: The restaurant is all about form, pretty much constantly sacrificing function along the way. The chairs are visually arresting but uncomfortable. The presentations are interesting but sacrifice the food on the altar of style. The huge green plastic chopsticks are striking but are difficult to use. You get the picture. The salad would actually have been a pretty good value if it were at all accessible, but c'est la vie. Will I go back to Room Service? Alas, probably. Hey, sometimes I get a craving for some more avant-garde Thai than our old standbys. Which makes Room Service the prototypical three Offset Spatula restaurant-- some pros, some cons, but good enough to go back.

Room Service
9th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Princeton review... backwards

This past weekend, AV and I headed back to his hometown of Princeton to lend a hand at his mom's jewelry show on Sunday. I'd been back to Princeton once before but hadn't thoroughly checked out all the edibles the town had to offer. For the past few weeks, I'd been looking forward to checking out the Bent Spoon, Princeton's famed artisanal ice cream shop, as an after-dinner treat, wherever dinner may be. But as Saturday night neared and dinner hour came and went, AV and I were simply not that hungry. But we wanted ice cream. So we decided to skip dinner entirely and head straight to the good stuff. Strangely, however, I wasn't craving fancy, delicate ice cream a la Bent Spoon; I was craving what we had had during my last trip to Princeton: Thomas Sweet.

Thomas Sweet is known for both ice cream and chocolate, but as we entered the shop, we knew exactly what we wanted. Two efficient orders later, we were sitting at a table diving into the most decadent, purest cookies 'n' cream ice cream I've had since that euphoric moment at SoCo Creamery in the Berkshires over the summer. This ice cream was a straightforward expression of sugar, vanilla, cream, and cookies-- nothing more, nothing less. It cooled the tongue and warmed the heart.

Absolutely classic

Satisfied with our dinner, we set off on a stroll around Princeton proper. Even in the merciless mist, Princeton was fairy-tale-like, cute and dreamy like a movie set. We peeked into the coffee shops and stores and dodged the college students, and all of a sudden I floated an idea: "Any chance you'd like some... real food?" Curiously, AV was on the same wavelength-- though we'd both just consumed about a half-pint of ice cream each, all of a sudden we were hungry for dinner.

And so we ducked into Mediterra, a warm yet chic restaurant near the center of town. It was about 9PM, and the hostess quoted us about 15 minutes for a table. So as I nipped off to the bathroom, AV retreated to the bar area, and by the time I returned, he had scored us two choice seats right at the bustling bar. I will note that Mediterra has by far and away the most comfortable bar seats we've ever had the pleasure of perching upon: padded and upholstered with substantial backs, these made our gastronomic journey a pleasure.

We each ordered a light bite from the menu, and within a moment or so a bread basket swooped down. The bread selection was admirable: three different kinds by my count, including a pumpernickle, a white slice, and some delicious focaccia. The dipping oil had a peppery bite to it that kept the palate interested.

Lots of bread for two casual noshers

With barely a few bites of bread consumed, our entrees (after-dinner snacks?) made their appearance. AV had chosen the fried calamari, which came with "harissa-pomodoro and lemon aioli" as dipping sauces. AV asked for an extra side of the red sauce, noting that any order of calamari that doesn't come with just straight-up marinara isn't quite playing fair (and though I wouldn't necessarily style myself a calamari expert, I'm inclined to agree). Speaking of playing fair, the mound of calamari was actually interspersed with tiny shoestring french fries, making the seafood pile seem more substantial than it was. As it was, AV steered around the unfavored octopus-like tentacle pieces and gobbled the rings and the fries and was satisfied.

Trompe l'oeil calamari

I had chosen the bibb lettuce salad with roasted pumpkin, red delicious apple, brie, roasted beets, and raisin vinagrette. I was very pleased with the salad, which came with two dressings on the side, one more apple-sauce-like (which I loved) and the other pretty standard. The brie crostino was pungeant and tasty, and the pumpkin was soft and sweet. My only gripe was that a few of the beets had slightly rotten spots, but other than that, I was a happy camper.

Creative melange

Our snacks at Mediterra capped off a delightful and delicious evening of dining in reverse. I'll be craving the ice cream at Thomas Sweet for some time to come, and the savory-sweet salad at Mediterra was no slouch either. It was the perfect combination for a dreamlike night at a fairy-tale land so close to the city, and yet a whole world away.

Thomas Sweet
179 Nassau Street, Princeton


29 Hulfish Street, Princeton

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Course upon course at Corsino

When Corsino opened a few weeks ago, I asked AV if we could go. "Of course," he replied, and promptly booked us a reservation for their first Saturday night open. Unfortunately, I had already planned a girls' night for that very same evening-- and so the reservation was cancelled. But suffice it to say that Corsino, owned by the same small-plates-Italian maestros behind 'ino and the 'inotecas, has been on my radar ever since.

Well, this past Friday, we finally made it there, convening in the drizzly night for a couples double date with my friend SW and her fiance BC. We arrived around 8:30 to an hour-long wait, so we sidled up to the bar for some drinks. SW and AV each started with a gin-based lemonade concoction, which was not too sweet with just enough fizz from a float of prosecco. BC and I went for large glasses of red wine. And by "large," I mean LARGE-- for each glass you order, Corsino gives you essentially a full glass plus a full mini-carafe, netting out to about two substantial glasses per order. Quite a good value, especially since most of the wines remain in the $9-14 per glass range.

We stood and chatted for a while, staring down the occupants of our prospective table, until finally they stood and vacated. We scurried over to the four-top by the window and settled in for some food.

To start, SW, BC, and AV each sampled the crostini. SW and BC shared the basil pesto and the butternut squash and roasted garlic crostini. AV chose the brussels sprouts and pecorino, of which I stole a bite. Overall, delicious, but at $2.50 PER CROSTINO, it's not exactly the best value on the menu.

This plate cost $7.50. Think about it.

While the others nibbled crostini, I dove right into a huge cheese plate. I selected five cheese for the "table to share," but let's be honest, by the end of the evening I had pretty much eaten nearly the whole thing. Every cheese-- robiola, fontina, taleggio, pecorino, and fresh ricotta-- was superlative, and the warm pressed panini-like bread points were the perfect foil for the creamy cheeses. However, I must admit I was disappointed by the accompaniments: blackened pistachios and a threatening pool of tomato and/or red pepper jelly. Uh, eew. Give me some preserves, fruit, and nuts any day.

Great cheese, gross pool of red goo

Innovative and delicious carb accompaniment

As I continued to plow through the cheeses, the entrees arrived. AV and SW had both chosen the crespelle with ricotta, tomato, and basil. These crepes were like a flatter version of lasagna, or perhaps horizontal stuffed shells-- regardless, as I snuck a few bites, they were delicious.

Cheesey, tomatoey Italian crepes

BC also seriously enjoyed his order of heritage brisket meatballs, with a generous shaving of pecorino over the top. The consensus between SW and BC was that they could only describe them as "layers of heaven." There's also an illustrative hand motion to accompany that description, but I'll leave that to the imaginations of my readers.

A little bowl of heaven

It was late and we were all pretty sopped with food and wine, but when the dessert menus came around, they HAD to be investigated, right? SW chose a tiramisu for the table, and when it arrived, we tackled it like crazed animals. Gosh, that tiramisu was delicious, one of the best I've had in a while. With thick layers of whipped cream and ladyfingers that held their structural integrity despite a boozy bite, this was one for the ages.

Gooey and great

And so, in the end, how did Corsino stack up? Pretty much as I had expected. The food and wine were quite good. The hour-long wait and relatively scattered service, not as good. The pricing was also somewhat erratic-- while certain menu items (wine, crespelle) were good values, others (crostini) truly weren't. Overall, I'd say Corsino comes in as a solid three Offset Spatula restaurant. So while I'm not sure I'd go seriously out of my way to go again, if you live in the West Village and have a few hours to kill, definitely check give it a go. But order carefully, lest that final tab sneak up on you...

637 Hudson Street, at Horatio Street